Best...climber...ever

2:06 p.m. on August 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Ueli Steck.  No one compares as the fastest alpine climber in existence.

http://gizmodo.com/5834704/i-wish-i-had-the-balls-to-risk-my-life-like-this-man

11:09 p.m. on August 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Ueli is of quite rare stock indeed...

6:09 a.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Perhaps a from an adventure racer’s perspective Ueli’s speed equates to best.  But there are so many other metrics to gage a mountaineer’s credentials.  For example prevailing over the shear technical difficulty of a climb.  One of the most extreme feats in mountaineering was the antithesis of speed, when in 1978 John Waterman required 145 days to solo the southeast spur up Mt hunter, a feat still considered one of the most difficult single climbs of all time.  Or the display of logistics, will power and resourcefulness, embodied in the Bates/Washburn grand tour of the Saint Elias Range in 1935, which included several not too shabby first ascents, but also one of the most harrowing river crossings in the annals of trekking lore.  Or for sheer test for true grit there is the first winter ascent of Denali in 1976 by the Blomberg party, which sent three of its eight man team to the top (less that twenty have ever summated Denali in winter).

Even tragedy can be a measure of greatness. For example the heroics of the 1953 American K-2 expedition, which was trapped in their high camp for days by bad weather.  Physically depleted by both cold and altitude they were forced to retreat in extreme weather when Art Gilkey developed thrombophlebitis in his leg.  Several hours into their rescue/retreat a mishap swept six members of the team off their stances, all of which Pete Schoeing single-handedly arrested on that high aspect slope in the most famous belay in mountaineering history.  This expedition is often referred to as the greatest example of mountaineering and brotherhood of the rope.  Then there is the 2008 fiasco on K2 whose many deaths were matched by heroism of a handful of individual and group efforts of many at great personal risk to rescue the remaining climbers trapped above the high camp.  Several of the rescuers went without sleep for several days on end; others endured open bivouacs all above 8KM.  Other would be rescuers became victims themselves.  Surely such courage and self sacrifice is worthy of consideration for greatness.

The current speed record for the Eiger is 2:28, by Daniel Arnold.  Regardless of their speed, these two greyhounds arguably are not the greatest to set foot on the mountain.  Any student of the Eiger would find it hard to deny this credit to the German team that first completed the route, lead by Anderi Heckmair.  Their equipment was so primitive that forward pointing front spikes on crampons had yet to be invented.  Thus climbers of this period were forced into cutting steps into the ice to facilitate the ascent.  Ice tools beyond alpenstocks had yet to be invented.  They prevailed mostly on sheer guts.  Practically all of Ueli’s success came standing on the shoulders of these great men. 

But even on the Eiger, tragedy may be the crucible that ultimately identifies the greatest.  In 1936 an Austrian-German team was attempting a retreat from bad weather when a fall claimed several members, and trapped two others up high.  One of the trapped, Tony Kruz, was left to dangle by his rope.  Rescuers could not get to men until the next day, but by that time one of Kunz’s arms was frozen stiff, and the other remaining climber dead from asphyxiation (the rope leading to Kunz was wrapped around the climber’s body).  The rescuers made several attempts to reach Kunz but his position stymied their attempts.  His fate rested on his own ability to up climb the rope he was hanging by, then fashion a longer rope length by unbraiding his rope, knotting the strands together to fashion a longer length of line.  This line was lowered to the rescuers, who tied on a rescue rope consisting of two shorter ropes knotted together.  Kunz retrieved the rescue rope, secured the tag end, and then began his abseil.  Keep in mind he is doing all of this with only one of his hands.  Alas the knot joining the ropes lengths would not pass through his belay plate.  Kurz struggled with this problem until exhaustion overcame him.  He lamented laconically “I can’t anymore,” then slumped over and died.  Tragic but epic.  Few face such tests of mettle, and fewer still who heroics are documented by eyewitness accounts.

Ed

8:22 a.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Ed I'm glad you mentioned Tony's struggles, they were amazing, yet as you said, tragic.

With that said, I've been watching this video for quite some time now. Despite the scores of other climbers who were even more legendary, this is incredibly inspirational for me and I drive myself hard in training after watching it.

10:15 a.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Does he ever use ropes?

11:23 a.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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No Tipi, he doesn't.  I had trouble watching a portion of that because some of the grades looked to be 5.10 at least.  

Sadly, he may not live to a ripe old age!

12:12 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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CWF said:

No Tipi, he doesn't.  I had trouble watching a portion of that because some of the grades looked to be 5.10 at least.  

Sadly, he may not live to a ripe old age!

 Especially if he continues to rush.  In fact, what's the rush?

12:56 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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I really don't see much sense of this. While I think he is a beast and I commend his efforts it just seems like a real waste of scenery to me.

12:58 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Ed,

There is a very good movie (an older one) I watched recently that tells the story of the 1936 Eiger attempt. I can't recall the name of it right now, but it was well worth watching.

12:59 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Agreed - he is on the fringe.  But I guess someone like Andrew Skurka is as well in the realm of long distance backpacking.  30 miles a day on average.  You sure would miss scenary.  Like this:


IMG_3560.jpg

1:03 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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My longest drive in one day was in the upper 30s. I felt like my thighs and calves were going to explode. I was moving. I was held back a day on the trail due to a storm and still had to make my pick-up time on the trail. This was quite a few years ago and I didn't carry a phone so I had to make one heck of a push. Not something I want to do on a regular basis but if I run into situation like that at least I know I am capable.

5:37 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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CWF said:

No Tipi, he doesn't.  I had trouble watching a portion of that because some of the grades looked to be 5.10 at least.  

Sadly, he may not live to a ripe old age!

 There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old, bold climbers.

5:47 p.m. on August 28, 2011 (EDT)
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As Ed has said, gauging who is the world's best climber is impossible, given the various aspects. Messner set very high standards, whoever followed Rebuffat's exploits and read his poetic "Starlight and Storm", Bonatti, who chose to climb for himself and eschewed being a guide because he felt climbing should not be commercialized, HW Tilman's fascination with the lands and people of the places he visited, the late Riccardo Cassin, were all great mountaineers. Can speed be a measure, certainly? But only in a limited technical sense. Mountaineering goes way beyond technical expertise IMHO. The double amputee who summited Mt. Rainer achieved a great deal that the rest of us can only imagine. As Mallory once wrote, "Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves." Steck is certainly a skilled climber, and he has achieved much in terms of technical achievements. What he has achieved as a mountaineer, an explorer of self, who struggles with doubt and fear, only he can know.

2:58 p.m. on August 29, 2011 (EDT)
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whomeworry said:

Perhaps a from an adventure racer’s perspective Ueli’s speed equates to best.  But there are so many other metrics to gage a mountaineer’s credentials.  For example prevailing over the shear technical difficulty of a climb.  One of the most extreme feats in mountaineering was the antithesis of speed, when in 1978 John Waterman required 145 days to solo the southeast spur up Mt hunter, a feat still considered one of the most difficult single climbs of all time.  Or the display of logistics, will power and resourcefulness, embodied in the Bates/Washburn grand tour of the Saint Elias Range in 1935, which included several not too shabby first ascents, but also one of the most harrowing river crossings in the annals of trekking lore.  Or for sheer test for true grit there is the first winter ascent of Denali in 1976 by the Blomberg party, which sent three of its eight man team to the top (less that twenty have ever summated Denali in winter).

Even tragedy can be a measure of greatness. For example the heroics of the 1953 American K-2 expedition, which was trapped in their high camp for days by bad weather.  Physically depleted by both cold and altitude they were forced to retreat in extreme weather when Art Gilkey developed thrombophlebitis in his leg.  Several hours into their rescue/retreat a mishap swept six members of the team off their stances, all of which Pete Schoeing single-handedly arrested on that high aspect slope in the most famous belay in mountaineering history.  This expedition is often referred to as the greatest example of mountaineering and brotherhood of the rope.  Then there is the 2008 fiasco on K2 whose many deaths were matched by heroism of a handful of individual and group efforts of many at great personal risk to rescue the remaining climbers trapped above the high camp.  Several of the rescuers went without sleep for several days on end; others endured open bivouacs all above 8KM.  Other would be rescuers became victims themselves.  Surely such courage and self sacrifice is worthy of consideration for greatness.

The current speed record for the Eiger is 2:28, by Daniel Arnold.  Regardless of their speed, these two greyhounds arguably are not the greatest to set foot on the mountain.  Any student of the Eiger would find it hard to deny this credit to the German team that first completed the route, lead by Anderi Heckmair.  Their equipment was so primitive that forward pointing front spikes on crampons had yet to be invented.  Thus climbers of this period were forced into cutting steps into the ice to facilitate the ascent.  Ice tools beyond alpenstocks had yet to be invented.  They prevailed mostly on sheer guts.  Practically all of Ueli’s success came standing on the shoulders of these great men. 

But even on the Eiger, tragedy may be the crucible that ultimately identifies the greatest.  In 1936 an Austrian-German team was attempting a retreat from bad weather when a fall claimed several members, and trapped two others up high.  One of the trapped, Tony Kruz, was left to dangle by his rope.  Rescuers could not get to men until the next day, but by that time one of Kunz’s arms was frozen stiff, and the other remaining climber dead from asphyxiation (the rope leading to Kunz was wrapped around the climber’s body).  The rescuers made several attempts to reach Kunz but his position stymied their attempts.  His fate rested on his own ability to up climb the rope he was hanging by, then fashion a longer rope length by unbraiding his rope, knotting the strands together to fashion a longer length of line.  This line was lowered to the rescuers, who tied on a rescue rope consisting of two shorter ropes knotted together.  Kunz retrieved the rescue rope, secured the tag end, and then began his abseil.  Keep in mind he is doing all of this with only one of his hands.  Alas the knot joining the ropes lengths would not pass through his belay plate.  Kurz struggled with this problem until exhaustion overcame him.  He lamented laconically “I can’t anymore,” then slumped over and died.  Tragic but epic.  Few face such tests of mettle, and fewer still who heroics are documented by eyewitness accounts.

Ed

 Could not agree more.Also remember Messner and his 3 day solo Everest climb.Way ahead for its time.The list goes on and on thru history.Then there are the technical rock guys,ice climbers and mountaineers so one that is high on the scale in one many not do well in another.It coming up with titles such "the best" it is only opinion anyway.ymmv

9:42 p.m. on August 29, 2011 (EDT)
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This thread is just a variant on the "Risk" thread of a few weeks ago. To repeat - whether you consciously realize it or not, you are subject to a high level of risk in your everyday life (e.g., Hurricane Irene and earthquakes), no matter where you live or your lifestyle.

Several of the posts in this thread display a bit of ignorance of climbing. Your risk in climbing is highly dependent on your skill level and your judgment. I had a fairly long conversation with Steck at the OR Show the early part of this month. Contrary to a lot of assertions I have seen and heard, he climbs very conservatively, paying very careful attention to the changing conditions. By doing the Eiger climb in the video rapidly, he was able to pick very favorable conditions (cold enough so the rockfall would be minimal and the ice and snow firm) in a short enough time so the conditions would change very little. One problem with the early attempts on the Nordwand (which gave the name to the movie referred to) was that climbers moved slowly enough and meteorology was primitive enough that the weather changed considerably during the climb.

When you click on the link that CWF gave and scan down to the "comments", you see such uninformed comments as "he was wearing boots on his crampons" - umm, other way around - crampons go on the boots. There was a reference to his tools barely touching the ice. It doesn't take much experience at climbing to know that you climb with your legs and feet - the tools serve the same function as a bannister on a staircase, mostly for balance. Steck's use of them as "daggers" is a standard technique when the slope is less than 45-50 degrees. Also, in mixed terrain, the sharp tips of the tools can hook in very small crevices and be extremely solid.

And, yes, he does use ropes for some of his climbing. He hones his skills by climbing the routes and routes very similar with a companion on rope on a frequent basis before his free solo climbs. And he judges the conditions as he goes, and will back off if conditions are not ideal.

I have gotten similar comments about hiking so fast I miss the scenery. My answer to that is "take a look a the photos I include in my trip reports". Here is one from a hike a couple days ago that my average speed was 3.2 mph.


IMGP0001.jpg
This fellow was about 2 m length. I admit I was hasty in zooming all the way, but I was using a P&S that I had to compose on the LCD screen, which is hard to do in full sunlight.

When I do talks in various venues that have audiences of mostly "general public", rather than climbers, backpackers, and other travellers. I frequently hear comments and questions of "you are a super adventurer!" and "How can you just sleep out on the ground/snow/ice?" and "how can you climb up something that steep?" My response is "How can you be living in earthquake/hurricane/tornado country?" and "How can you drive on 101 in rush hour with people swerving in and out at 80 and 85 mph", and "You live in East Oakland, don't you, where those people were shot dead last night? How can you live there?" And nowdays, "Didn't you say you were at the baseball game last weekend, where all the fist fights were going on in the stands, and the guy was beaten to death in the restroom?"

Know your limits and know your skills. Control your risks and choose something you enjoy doing as the way you will die.

10:11 p.m. on August 29, 2011 (EDT)
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Bills S. says "It doesn't take much experience at climbing to know that you climb with your legs and feet - the tools serve the same function as a bannister on a staircase, mostly for balance."

If this is true, and I'm sure it is, then how do I interpret his minor slips at minutes 1:49/1:50 and 3:38?  Being a non-climber, it's hard to know what to make of these very minor slips, but without a rope they make me wonder.  How many more slips can he have before the inevitable happens?  Or is he, as Bill S. suggests, in control at all times??

11:42 a.m. on August 30, 2011 (EDT)
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This is not the place to teach a whole climbing course, but there are few things I might mention in a hugely shortened and oversimplified form. The basic principle is to have a whole series of backups. If you are using a rope as a safety line, the rope has to be attached to something. This means (1) a belayer or belay device, (2) some sort of anchor system for the belayer or belay device, and (3) intermediate protection such as cams, chocks, slings on natural protection. Boulderers use crash pads and spotters. Anchor systems must be SRENE or ERNEST, two acronyms that mean Equalized, Redundant, Non-Extending, Solid, and Timely (the two versions differ only in the T for Timely, which basically means you can set the anchor in a brief time, not spending a week to build it). When moving, whether you have a rope, and automatic cable system like that becoming popular in climbing gyms (and recently subject to a recall), or like Steck in the video, you always have 3 points of contact for your 4 extremities. Look closely at the video and you will see that Steck always has 3 of the 4 (2 ice tools and two crampons) into the slope at all times. He moves one point of contact at a time, so that if one of the 3 fails, he still has two. Yes, you see some of the free solo rock climbers swinging on one arm, particularly during a dynamic move, but this pretty unusual, more common for bouldering than for climbing, and then often with a crash pad and spotters, plus many of the free solo climbs on rock have been rehearsed by climbing the route multiple times with a rope and partner.

When Steck gets onto less steep terrain, he does transition to just having his feet in contact with the slope. But note that his tools are at the ready. It is like climbing a ladder (if you follow OSHA guidelines) - you always have 3 points of contact with the ladder as you move up or down - 2 hands and 2 feet, move one of these at a time.

There is a lot more to it than this. Which is a major reason why you should learn to climb with a mentor.

5:05 a.m. on August 31, 2011 (EDT)
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Bill S said:

This thread is just a variant on the "Risk" thread of a few weeks ago. To repeat - whether you consciously realize it or not, you are subject to a high level of risk in your everyday life (e.g., Hurricane Irene and earthquakes), no matter where you live or your lifestyle.

Several of the posts in this thread display a bit of ignorance of climbing. Your risk in climbing is highly dependent on your skill level and your judgment. I had a fairly long conversation with Steck at the OR Show the early part of this month. Contrary to a lot of assertions I have seen and heard, he climbs very conservatively, paying very careful attention to the changing conditions. By doing the Eiger climb in the video rapidly, he was able to pick very favorable conditions (cold enough so the rockfall would be minimal and the ice and snow firm) in a short enough time so the conditions would change very little. One problem with the early attempts on the Nordwand (which gave the name to the movie referred to) was that climbers moved slowly enough and meteorology was primitive enough that the weather changed considerably during the climb.

When you click on the link that CWF gave and scan down to the "comments", you see such uninformed comments as "he was wearing boots on his crampons" - umm, other way around - crampons go on the boots. There was a reference to his tools barely touching the ice. It doesn't take much experience at climbing to know that you climb with your legs and feet - the tools serve the same function as a bannister on a staircase, mostly for balance. Steck's use of them as "daggers" is a standard technique when the slope is less than 45-50 degrees. Also, in mixed terrain, the sharp tips of the tools can hook in very small crevices and be extremely solid.

And, yes, he does use ropes for some of his climbing. He hones his skills by climbing the routes and routes very similar with a companion on rope on a frequent basis before his free solo climbs. And he judges the conditions as he goes, and will back off if conditions are not ideal.

I have gotten similar comments about hiking so fast I miss the scenery. My answer to that is "take a look a the photos I include in my trip reports". Here is one from a hike a couple days ago that my average speed was 3.2 mph.


IMGP0001.jpg
This fellow was about 2 m length. I admit I was hasty in zooming all the way, but I was using a P&S that I had to compose on the LCD screen, which is hard to do in full sunlight.

When I do talks in various venues that have audiences of mostly "general public", rather than climbers, backpackers, and other travellers. I frequently hear comments and questions of "you are a super adventurer!" and "How can you just sleep out on the ground/snow/ice?" and "how can you climb up something that steep?" My response is "How can you be living in earthquake/hurricane/tornado country?" and "How can you drive on 101 in rush hour with people swerving in and out at 80 and 85 mph", and "You live in East Oakland, don't you, where those people were shot dead last night? How can you live there?" And nowdays, "Didn't you say you were at the baseball game last weekend, where all the fist fights were going on in the stands, and the guy was beaten to death in the restroom?"

Know your limits and know your skills. Control your risks and choose something you enjoy doing as the way you will die.

So very well said.  As for your little friend there.  A snake on the ground can only strike a third of it's total body length.  At two meters that means this snake can only have a striking distance of 2/3rds meter or 2.18722 ft.

7:20 p.m. on September 1, 2011 (EDT)
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apeman said:


So very well said.  As for your little friend there.  A snake on the ground can only strike a third of it's total body length.  At two meters that means this snake can only have a striking distance of 2/3rds meter or 2.18722 ft.

 The snake in my photo is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. This subspecies and the Mojave Rattlesnake can strike 2/3 or more of their length (source is California Poison Control System), so in this case, (s)he could have reached 130 cm (4.2 ft). The rattler that bit me (at age 16) struck just longer than his body length, though he had the advantage of launching off the back of the cage. The Mojave is unusual for Crotalids in having a neurotoxic component to its venom in addition to the hemotoxin that all Crotalids have, which is why the Mojave rattler is the most dangerous of rattlers.

But this is off the thread's topic. There are no snakes on the Eigerwand.

8:29 p.m. on September 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Bill S said:

apeman said:


So very well said.  As for your little friend there.  A snake on the ground can only strike a third of it's total body length.  At two meters that means this snake can only have a striking distance of 2/3rds meter or 2.18722 ft.

 The snake in my photo is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. This subspecies and the Mojave Rattlesnake can strike 2/3 or more of their length (source is California Poison Control System), so in this case, (s)he could have reached 130 cm (4.2 ft). The rattler that bit me (at age 16) struck just longer than his body length, though he had the advantage of launching off the back of the cage. The Mojave is unusual for Crotalids in having a neurotoxic component to its venom in addition to the hemotoxin that all Crotalids have, which is why the Mojave rattler is the most dangerous of rattlers.

But this is off the thread's topic. There are no snakes on the Eigerwand.

Well, I stand corrected.  Bill do you have a link to that site (California Posion Contro system)?   I raised snakes for many years as a hobbie, mostly boas and pythons and the conventional wisdom for many years is that a coiled snake laying on the ground can only strike a third the length of it's body.  I'd like to read mopre about this if you have a link.

9:24 a.m. on September 2, 2011 (EDT)
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I would be interested in reading that as a well. I have been aware, and personally seen, that most snakes can strike further than the 1/3 that usually quoted. In most cases, and with most snakes, this is only possible for them to strike further when positioned against an object and in a accordion-like posture. That position allows for a longer striking distance, as much as the length of their body in "ideal" position. From a coiled, extended, or un-braced stance the 1/3 to 1/2 strike distances is fairly accurate in my experience.

I don't doubt it is possible that there is something unique about the Mojave Rattler, I am just curious to find out more.  

12:11 p.m. on September 2, 2011 (EDT)
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Some light reading people may find educational, pertinent to some of this discussion.  Interesting reading.  I have a stack of others that i haven't yet read so can't yet recommend, but i'm optimistic.  i figure that i can learn from history and hopefully not repeat it. 

-Minus 148 degrees by Art Davidson - winter ascent of Denali

-Not Without Peril by Nicholas Howe - a selective history of mishaps in the White Mountains.  Gives an interest sense of the kinds of gear people used over time.

-The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters, edited by Hamish MacInnes - short stories of mishaps in the mountains; some accounts of climbs on the Eigerwand, including the Toni Kurz's unfortunate last climb. 

-The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti - one of the pioneers. 

-Touching the Void by Joe Simpson - an account of a climb in the Peruvian Andes that, um, didn't go well. 

-Nanda Devi, the Tragic Expedition, by John Roskelley

12:45 p.m. on September 2, 2011 (EDT)
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I will add Ed Viestur and Dave Roberts "K2: Life and death on the World's most dangerous mountain" to the list of disaster (Climbing results in certain death!) themed books. But Charlie Houston's biography, Fellowship of the Rope, is a more balanced view.

The annual Accidents in North American Mountaineering (ANAM) from the American Alpine Club is an interesting read each year. After you have looked through 3 or 4 years' worth, you start wondering how people can make the same mistakes over and over and over (and hopefully learn what to look out for yourself).

On the snakes (way off topic here!), CalPoison is here for the Mojave and here for the Northern Pacific rattler.

1:46 p.m. on September 2, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill S & leadbelly2550  for all the good reads as well as the off topic material.

4:44 p.m. on September 2, 2011 (EDT)
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I just finished reading The Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain that Killed My Father by John Harlin III.  Great read and tragic at the same time.  Having understood what the Eiger is and the challenges posed to the early climbers of that mountain, the speed of which Ueli climbed it makes his feat all the more incredible.  Really...incredible.

5:13 p.m. on October 3, 2011 (EDT)
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Just saw a 60 Minutes story on Alex Honnold, a solo free climber (no ropes, no protection). You can see the story on the CBS website.  They showed him soloing Sentinel in Yosemite and also part of his Half Dome solo.  John Long says he's the best rock climber in the world and he would know.

He shows off his hands in the interview-his fingers look about half again as big around as a normal person's fingers, so his hands look really strange. They almost look like a cartoon character's hands.

Here's a Wikipedia article about him-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Honnold

12:23 p.m. on October 13, 2011 (EDT)
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This will be my first post here, so forgive my arrogance. When I saw the title of this thread I was expecting a little more debate on the positive influence that climbing has on our lives. Whenever someone says anything about a supposed "best" climber I am always reminded of a quote by Alex Lowe.

"The best climber in the world, is the one having the most fun."

10:44 a.m. on October 14, 2011 (EDT)
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JC5123 said:

"The best climber in the world, is the one having the most fun."

 Ergo why I bring a flask.

Ed

6:07 p.m. on October 14, 2011 (EDT)
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taking your invitation, JC5, and it's a fair point, climbing helps clear my head from an intellectually challenging and often intense job and a parade of youth sports, i have three active children.  i like the opportunity to be outside, on my own or with a few people who share my enthusiasm for being outside, testing myself physically, and testing the elements.  things change on the fly when you're outside and away, and i like the challenge of keeping myself safe, happy, and getting toward where i'm going, and of dealing with the weather and trail conditions that present themselves.  

i also really like the advance work - the thought process, the planning, evaluating and gearing up for the weather, even if i'm just out for the day.  the advance work usually, if done well, makes for a better experience.  

10:30 a.m. on October 24, 2011 (EDT)
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I think Scott Fischer on the Breach Icecicle is pretty awsome stuff. While most people just know that he died on Everest, he was a mountaineer with many, many major accomplishments.

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